March 6, 2014 | 11:11 pmIOWA CITY — Iowa guard Josh Oglesby has elevated his status from excluded to X-factor.
Oglesby, a 6-foot-6 junior from Cedar Rapids, debuted last week after a broken foot and drained four 3-pointers in his first four attempts. From spreading the floor and loosening up his teammates on offense to playing solid, deceptive on-ball defense, it’s possible Oglesby provides the final piece in the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten-contending puzzle.
The No. 22 Hawkeyes (11-2) face Nebraska (8-4) at 6 p.m. Tuesday (BTN) in search of their first Big Ten regular-season title since 1979. Iowa boasts the league’s best collection of depth and sprinkles in length, size, experience, toughness and talent. Few teams can match their transition game, and the Hawkeyes rank first in scoring (88.7) and scoring margin (23.2) in the Big Ten. Iowa is fourth in both categories nationally.
Additionally, Iowa quietly has provided solid numbers from 3-point range, ranking fourth in the Big Ten at 37.6 percent. But it’s a different team if Oglesby is hitting shots.
“When he’s shooting the ball like that he’s phenomenal,” Iowa Coach Fran McCaffery said. “But also he’s not a mistake guy. He’s a solid player in the back court who defends.
“It just takes a lot of the pressure off of particularly (Devyn) Marble and Aaron White, who are key guys. You look at Josh and Jarrod (Uthoff), in particular, who are scoring the ball the way they’re scoring it, it gives you that much more to prepare for to get ready for us.”
Oglesby had a well-documented down season a year ago, shooting just 27 percent from 3-point range. He worked on a quicker release and spoke with a sports psychologist in the off-season. He entered the season in better shape and with a better frame of mind, but a broken right foot in early November detoured that progress.
With his perimeter prowess in his first game back, Oglesby proved when he’s clicking, he gives Iowa an added dimension.
“Hopefully he’ll have confidence in his shot because he can shoot the ball real well,” Marble said. “He helps everybody out. He opens up driving lanes and stuff like that, somebody you can kick it to when the defense collapses. It helps the overall offense and spreading the floor.”
But Oglesby’s teammates also just as quick to say he’s much better than a 3-point specialist and helps in other phases, too.
“I think a lot of people kind of discount how good of a basketball player he is,” White said. “A lot of people just say he’s a shooter, but he’s way more than that. A great ballhandler, great passer, tremendous feel for the game, I think it will help us with the shooting aspect but also with the way he moves the ball. The way the offense moves around him is really crisp. I’m happy he’s back. I love playing with him.”
Of course Iowa requires more than just Oglesby’s success to navigate through a challenging Big Ten slate. The Hawkeyes need a full season of consistency from Marble and continued growth in the post from sophomore Adam Woodbury and junior Gabe Olaseni. They need power forward Melsahn Basabe to play with effort and toughness on each possession. They want forwards Uthoff and Zach McCabe to thrive as inside-outside specialists, and White to elevate his stock as perhaps the league’s best transition big man. Sophomore point guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmons must lead to allow everybody to excel in their role.
If all of those details are met, combined with a healthy and confident Oglesby, it’s possible Iowa could finish with some Big Ten hardware. That goal starts against the Cornhuskers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, where the Hawkeyes have won 17 straight.
“You really have to protect your home court,” McCaffery said. “Everybody knows that and at the same time, everybody looks at opportunity on the road. Can we go get a road win, because we’re going to have to play nine tough road games. What kind of team do we have? Are we tough enough? Are we together? Can we deal with the crowd because every place has an atmosphere that’s impressive? That’s what it is. When you get to the end, the ones that are able to do that, are the ones who are still standing and still playing in March. So it’s a big test for us, and we’ll be ready for it.”